There’s no right way to grieve, to say goodbye or to move on. There’s no timeline for acceptance or mourning. There are moments of deep sorrow and longing just as there are moments of numbness to all the emotions involved in the death of someone close. Thursday, however, was a time of remembrance and an opportunity to celebrate Keith Joseph Sr. and Keith Joseph Jr., a pair of men and a pair of Bulldogs whose impact on the world around them was felt in a profound and loving manner.
Just as teams celebrate at the end of great seasons, so too did the Mississippi State family celebrate at the end of two great lives. In a memorial service on MSU’s campus, the lives of the two men were remembered, an emphasis given by all to hold on to the legacy they each left behind.
“These two men, father and son, made the world a better place,” said University President Mark Keenum. “They will live on in our memories.”
When head football coach Dan Mullen spoke, he called it a celebration of life, the tears in his eyes and the catch in his throat not preventing him from sharing what an inspiration father and son both were to him, to those around them and even to those who never knew them. Mullen acknowledged how easy it can be to take for granted the people you see every day, never realizing the impact they have on you until they’re gone.
As he looked back at a model father and a dedicated son, he knew what meaning they had in his life.
“Keith Sr. and Keith Jr. will be with so many people, burned into their hearts, burned into their minds. Their legacy will be with them forever,” Mullen said.
In remembrance of Sr., former MSU teammate Sleepy Robinson spoke of a man he considered his brother, a “great football player” and a tremendous friend and family man. Current defensive line coach David Turner spoke about the father of a son he was recruiting, a role model who refused to let Jr. fall behind in academics, athletics or any part of his life.
Turner, too, shared the way each touched his life, considering the great person Joseph Jr. was to be a direct result of the tremendous man Joseph Sr. was, as well. Turner always heard people tell him what a wonderful player and young man he was getting when Joseph Jr. decided to play for the Bulldogs, though he never knew how much that person would change his life in such a short time.
“Everything that you heard about him, everything you wanted to believe about him, was true,” Turner said. “His legacy was to be the best, be great, at whatever he was doing … That’s a tribute to his father and his mother.”
The impact Joseph Jr. had on his teammates was significant, as well, and meaningful despite the short time they had together. Senior defensive end Ryan Brown shared the story of the first time he was around the new freshman defensive lineman.
Doing team sprints during workouts in the summer, Brown always expected to finish first. But that day, while he was running, he saw a fast, lanky kid pass by him. Every sprint, it was the same. Whoever this Joseph kid was, he had come to work.
When they returned to the locker room after the running session, Brown, the leader of the defensive line, approached the new kid in the group.
“If you keep working that hard, you’re gonna sweat your jersey off,” Brown told Joseph Jr. “That’s when I first saw him smile.”
That smile, that big, wide and bright smile, was brought up by all who told stories about their lost friend. As hard as he worked, Joseph Jr. took an equal amount of enjoyment in living his life, just like the father whose footsteps he always followed.
“I think God brings people in your life to teach you things,” Brown said. “Those are the two lessons Keith taught us.”
It’s an odd thing, the way human emotions work, when grief and joy are paired together, as the memories of great men can bring equally great sorrow. The exhortation from speakers at the service was to embrace those memories and understand that it’s OK to be happy again, OK to laugh and certainly OK to smile the same big smile Joseph Jr. was known for. And as he smiled, so too did he work, and carrying on both parts of his legacy is important to those who knew either man.
“Keep pressing on,” Robinson said as he spoke about Joseph Sr. “We’ve got a big game this week and he would have it no other way. Push forward, one play at a time.”
As the ceremony wound to a close, the crowd clapped and cried, smiled and hugged as the gospel song ‘Troubles Don’t Last Always’ serenaded the mourning and celebrating men and women there to honor the Joseph men.
Weeping may endure for a night.
Keep the faith it will be alright.
I’m so glad trouble don’t last always.
No, it won’t last always.
The pain will heal, but the two men will never be forgotten for what they gave to those they knew.
“It’s time like these that make you wonder, as we lead our lives, are we leaving the proper legacy?” Mullen asked as his thoughts turned to the memories and inspirations of Joseph Jr. and Sr. “I don’t know if you could leave a better legacy behind.”